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Mainstream, Vol XLVIII, No 36, August 28, 2010

Gopalaswamy Parthasarathi

Thursday 2 September 2010, by Nikhil Chakravartty



The month of August marks the death anniversaries of distinguished diplomat-administrator-educationist G. Parthasarathi and renowned journalist C.N. Chitta Ranjan (who, apart from being the Editor of National Herald, Assistant Editor of Patriot and Editor of Link, was the first Editor of this journal in 1962-63). Parthasarathi passed away in New Delhi on August 1, 1995 and Chitta Ranjan breathed his last in the Capital on August 2, 1990. Remembering them today, we are carrying the following tributes by N.C. as well as two pieces by those two personalities. The centennial tribute to Dr Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan by GP was taken from his address at the commemorative meeting held on the occasion of the second President of India’s birth centenary at the India International Centre in New Delhi in 1988 while the write-up by CNC
was his editorial in Mainstream (May 18, 1963).

The passing away of Gopalaswamy the Parthasarathi on August 2 marked the disappearance of a familiar landmark in the public life of our country. A diplomat, media specialist, educationist and an ardent lover of sports, he was, above all, a humanist of the very noble brand.

GP, as he used to be fondly called by practically all who knew him, old and young, personified enlightening liberalism at its best while upholding the finer aspects of our traditional value system.

A personality of uncommon civility, GP has been the true friend, philosopher and guide to generations of his countrymen and women wherever he happened to be stationed—Madras or Delhi, London or New York, Karachi or Hanoi, Beijing or Jakarta. A diplomat of outstanding versatility, he combined a wide conceptual framework of foreign policy with meticulous care for details. Reared in the great traditions of our foreign policy as envisiond by Jaawaharlal Nehru, he was both bold and perspective in his approach, a rare mix of firmness with understanding which could face the most adverse situation with a remarkable degree of sang froid.

He was proud of having represented his country in various capacities in the comity of nations. With total absence of flamboyance, GP could meet the most difficult adversary with a degree of quiet persuasiveness that was difficult to ward off, helping in most cases towards building a rapport that could endure the onslaught of political differences and personal animus. He held some of the most difficult diplomatic assignments that faced Indian foreign policy—whether it was in tension-ridden Karachi or unquiet Peking or in the web of complexities that beset Indo-China battling against great-power domination.

Parthasarathi’s quiet wisdom and personal integrity won him many a friend and a host of admirers. And so even in his years of retirement, one could find Sahibzada Yakub or General Giap calling on him to pay their personal respects. And sometimes he would undertake quiet assign-ments in pursuit of national concerns unruffled by their complexities. At the intellectual level, his contribution towards the making of foreign policy was evident during his tenure as the head of the Policy Planning Division of the Foreign Office in the seventies when he displayed his extraordinary quality of welding a team of experts with seasoned diplomats. In fact, this was GP’s singular trait—he could build up a well-knit team wherever he was posted. One of his last assignments was to handle the high-explosive Tamil issue in Sri Lanka in the early eighties when, with utmost patience, he nearly brought about an accord, which was unfortunately disrupted with Indira Gandhi’s passing away and the consequent shift in India’s policy towards Sri Lanka.

Although GP never participated in party politics, he undertook difficult political assignments which he carried out with his characteristic patience and friendly approach. This could be seen in the Kashmir accord of the seventies which brought Sheikh Abdullah back into mainstream politics—an assignment which needed all the attention to details in which few could match GP. Another feather on his cap came when after protracted talks with the rebel Laldenga, he settled the broad framework of the Mizo accord which was finally signed under Rajiv Gandhi. Even in day-to-day politics, he played no insignificant role towards the forging of alliances among like-minded parties. This was most noticeable in the case of Tamil Nadu.

When he was made the Vice-Chancellor of the newly born Jawaharlal Nehru University, GP displayed not only a deep attachment to the cause of eduction, but also helped to promote the pluralist tradition of humanist education in our country. The sense of freedom which pervades the JNU campus even today was the gift of Parthasarathi in no small measure. Radicals and conservatives, the Left and the Right, the traditionalist and the liberal—all received their due accord under his dispensation at JNU. In a different context, GP showed the same fidelity to humanistic values when he presided over the Indian Council of Social Science Research as also the Indian Institute of Mass Communication.

GP was not a prolific writer. But he was a stern disciplinarian in all that he wrote. The choice of a word or a phrase might take hours until he was fully satisfied. His capacity to recollect references was prodigious. This could be seen in recalling old documents and reconsidering them in a new context.

Parthasarathi began his long innings in public life as an earnest journalist. And throughout his long and eventful career, his attachment to the media was undeviating, and its problems always concerned him. In a sense, he was encyclopaedic in his wide interest in the social and cultural impact of the new information technology, both at home and abroad. A great deal of his time in the UNESCO was devoted to the problems of communications. And individual journalists always benefited by his ready interaction with them, young and old.

A personality of impeccable integrity, Gopalaswamy Parthasarathi shall be remembered for his selfless dedication to the cause of Indian democracy.

(Mainstream, August 12, 1995)

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